Margaret Hodge: ‘Companies have to pay their share. Tax is a moral issue’

As the tax affairs of Google and Amazon have risen up the agenda, one MP has led the charge. So, James Moore asks her, what’s she planning next?

She has chucked bricks at executives from Google, Amazon, Starbucks. She has eviscerated the top civil servants from HM Revenue & Customs. And she strikes fear into the hearts of the “leaders” of other dysfunctional public bodies.

So they’ll be mightily relieved that Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, is planning a brief cease-fire to weigh up her next move.

What they won’t like is her pledge that she is by no means done. “We’re going to pause for breath for a moment. We want to stop and think where we go from here strategically,” says Hodge of her crusade to name and shame those involved in global tax avoidance.

But corporate Britain be warned. “They hide behind this taxpayer confidentiality,” she says. “For ordinary people, keeping your affairs confidential – that’s only right. But these are very big organisations, public companies. That makes them different.”

Suggesting corporate titans offer full disclosure of their tax affairs will create a storm. The business lobby is preparing its usual accusations that such a move would “damage British business” and “push companies away from Britain”.

“Well if they won’t accept that, there is an option,” says Hodge. “We could have a committee of MPs overseeing them in private, the same way that the Intelligence and Security Committee operates.” Hodge says this would be “second best”. She says doesn’t see any reason why a light should not be cast on the affairs of Britain’s biggest corporations.

One thing Margaret Hodge is very keen to stress, however, is the consensus of the Public Accounts Committee that she chairs. “It is completely unanimous, and there are a majority of Conservatives on this committee.”

When I ask how she finds working with the other side, she says of the Tories on her committee: “They’re great.” And she seems to mean it.

She then rounds on critics who argue that companies are only operating within the law: “This is a moral issue,” she says. “They benefit from being in this country. They profit from being in this country and they benefit from the services that tax provides. They want their staff to be educated, to be healthy. They use the roads, the infrastructure. That has to be paid for and they should pay their share.”

She doesn’t hold with those who argue that these companies already do pay a lot of tax. “Look, you and I pay VAT, we pay national insurance. We can’t then go and say, ‘I don’t fancy paying income tax’. The same is true for them.”

In making statements like that Hodge has tapped into a well of public anger. She doesn’t much care, therefore, if what she does proves controversial with the leaderships of either political party. She argues that one way politicians can reconnect with a public that is increasingly cynical about the political process is to listen to what they are saying on issues like tax.

“I learnt that fighting the BNP. I spent three years fighting Nick Griffin. I had to listen,” Hodge explains. That fight often drew her into controversy, but it ended with her being re-elected with a majority that had doubled. The racist party’s presence on Barking and Dagenham Council was obliterated.

I suggest to Hodge that she is among a handful of senior MPs that have given Parliament back at least some of its teeth, another notable example being Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative who chairs the Treasury Select Committee and the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

“He’s very good,” she interjects before adding: “I hope so. There was a feeling, after the expenses scandal, that we had to do something to re-establish trust and show the public that what we do is valuable.”

I suggest MPs like her, and Tyrie, are becoming more like US senators, willing to work across the floor and in an independent manner. This draws a wry smile: “The equivalent of this committee in the US has a staff of 120 people, 80 for the majority party and 40 for the minority. We have nothing like that.”

Hodge remains frustrated at what she still sees as a lack of action on the issue of tax. She remains highly critical of her old punchbag, HM Revenue and Customs: “I don’t know what do with them. Do you know the big companies each have customer relationship managers? That’s far too cosy. They’ve never litigated on some of these [tax] cases.”

But she also says the Government has to do more. One example she cites is the recent German government decision to ban companies from utilising financing through intra-company loans at artificially high interest rates from low-tax jurisdictions. The practice is used to depress profits in a higher tax domicile.

“The Germans said, ‘Right, enough’. They banned it. I don’t know why we can’t do something like that.” She also describes as “half-hearted” work around simplifying Britain’s gargantuan tax code and suggests the Government is “running scared” as a result of big companies’ threats to quit if legislators come down too heavily on them.

“I don’t believe that is the case. I don’t think they would. They benefit from being here, they make profits through being here. I think we need to realise that.”

Hodge has gained a fearsome reputation as a result of the televising of her committee’s hearings. In person, however, the diminutive grandmother is charm personified. She smiles easily, and apologises for the difficulties I faced as a disabled person reaching her office. That rather grand office that comes with her position is decorated on one wall with photographs of her predecessors as PAC chair: “I’ll be the first woman there,” she laughs.

One of her more radical notions is allowing MPs to “job share” which she feels might facilitate not only the entry of more women but more disabled people as well.

She tells the story of a meeting in the whips’ office where a photo of her was attached to a dartboard. The whip administering the telling off was throwing at it. It’s one of those unreconstructed Westminster stories. “The culture’s changed since then,” she says. “A bit.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003